The Mid South’s Course Atlas: “It’s about much more than the course itself”

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Event “loot bags” can be random, sometimes filled with useful samples (chain lube, chamois cream) but often with disposable things we could do without.

At this year’s Mid South, however, there’s something in every driver’s and racer’s bag that race director Bobby Wintle deems almost as important as the event itself: The Mid South Course Atlas, a book of 64 pages, 5×7 inches that contains a library of information about Oklahoma – from Indigenous perspectives on the state’s cultural history to scientific perspectives on its flora and fauna. The book also contains all route information for running and riding routes.

Related: Gravel Monuments: The Middle South

But Wintle doesn’t want QR codes and maps to steal the show.

“This thing goes way beyond the course itself,” he says.

For years, Wintle has delved into the cultural and environmental history of his adopted state, Oklahoma. Although he changed the name of the event – formerly Land Run 100 – for the 2020 edition, his education to change his one-dimensional perspective of the venue began a few years earlier, at the request of university friends.

Related: What’s in a name? Why Land Run 100 became The Mid South

In fact, something he read hit him then and has stuck with him ever since.

“I read this when I was doing the work to change the name,” he says, “it was something like, the land holds us and without the land we can’t experience these events because they don’t would not occur. We need to know the history of the land and who the stewards were before we arrived.

(Photo: Josh McCullock)

So when Josh McCullock, an Oklahoma City-based photographer, approached Wintle the fall after the first Mid South and asked if he wanted to pursue the conversation further on place and Indigenous perspectives around his bike race, Wintle said, characteristically, “hell yeah.”

“It started out as an idea to take a closer look at a few outdoor recreation topics and issues for attendees,” says McCullock. “People come from all over for this event, and some people know a lot about Oklahoma, others just know the dirt is red here. that for people who come here for the weekend, well, we thought it would be interesting and connect people to the experience in a new way.”

McCullock and Wintle, along with friends and dozens of people they met along the way, dove deep into the project. In fact, Wintle hired McCullock full-time to join the rambling small staff of Mid South (his title is Creative Instigator). There wasn’t exactly a budget for the Course Atlas, but Wintle was committed to it. Eventually, Easton came on board with some financial help.

Neither McCullock nor Wintle claim to be an expert on indigenous, environmental or cultural issues in Oklahoma. They wanted people to contribute to the book.

Some of them include Rusty Atkins, an avid cyclist from Stillwater and Indian Education Coordinator for Stillwater Public Schools, Yatika Starr Fields, a muralist and endurance runner, Ariel Ross, English teacher at the ‘Oklahoma State University, and John Hodge, a cyclist from Stillwater. and doctorate in botany. candidate for the OSU.

(Photo: Josh McCullock)

JD Reeves, a designer from Tulsa, designed the Course Atlas. Reeves is Cherokee and says the project touched him personally.

“It combined my passion for how we encounter and experience the land we live on with my deep appreciation for the history of the tribes that inhabited this land long before us and still inhabit it today,” says- he.

McCullock and Wintle both say that the year and a half they have worked on the Course Atlas – and up until today – has been characterized by learning and evolving rather than producing a perfect end product.

“It all started as ‘let’s do a field guide,'” McCullock says. “And it evolved into a piece of cultural history, a piece of environmental history, and a piece of Indigenous perspective. I think our ability to understand a lot of things grew along the way. We seek to make our way through the darkness with our hearts open.

Oklahoma is a deeply layered cultural and land use history. There are currently 39 federally recognized sovereign nations in Oklahoma, but that number belies the number and indigenous groups that inhabited the area prior to the removal and reassignment.

Examples can be found in Stillwater, home of The Mid South, itself. For example, Oklahoma State University sits on land pledged to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in exchange for their ancestral lands during the withdrawal period of the 1830s. Then, in 1889, the Annual Appropriation Bill Indians was passed, authorizing the opening of nearly two million acres of “unallocated” land for settlement. Stillwater was settled that year in the subsequent Land Run.

(Photo: Josh McCullock)

While designing the 2022 routes, Wintle and the Mid South team witnessed first-hand the silence of the conversation on tribal issues. Unable to route the 100-mile course through the town of Pawnee, they hoped to work with the neighboring nation of Pawnee. When the team asked the town of Pawnee for help, they were met with blank stares.

“We said, ‘How can we invite them to be a part of what we’re doing?'” Wintle said, “And they looked at me blankly. ‘Well, we’re not sure.’ They didn’t give me a name or phone number. Nobody was ever like, we should break that barrier.

Having the midpoint of the 100-mile race in the Pawnee Nation is an experience, something that doesn’t fit in a book, but Wintle sees it as another common thread in the same conversation.

“The book is, for the first time ever, a real conversation about place and identity and what it means to be an Indigenous person and to be involved in a sport and outdoor community,” he says.

While pre-race jitters can keep people from diving into the Course Atlas the day before the race, Wintle, McCullock and the entire Mid South team hope that when they do, it will improve their experience of the venue. and therefore racing. Or vice versa.

“You really can’t pay attention here, but when you start paying attention, there are beautiful, deep things that can make you feel more connected,” McCullock says. “If this thing can deepen that experience, that’s what we want.”

About Stuart M. McFarland

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